Lebanese army increases forces in tense Beirut

Lebanon’s army deployed more soldiers in Beirut on Monday after the killing of a pro-Syrian Shi’ite Muslim demonstrator raised fears anti-government protests could turn into sectarian violence.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa warned the crisis could worsen and indicated he had discussed ideas for a solution with Lebanese officials during a 24-hour visit to Beirut.

Security sources said the military increased its forces in Sunni districts that Shi’ite protesters drive through to get to central Beirut where the Hezbollah-led opposition is holding a sit-in to topple the Western-backed government.

These districts witnessed several clashes between residents and protesters on Sunday—from stone-throwing to fights with sticks and knives.

In the most serious incident, gunmen fired assault rifles at a group of protesters in the Sunni Qasqas neighbourhood, a stronghold for the anti-Syrian majority coalition, killing one man and wounding others.

The opposition said the incidents would not make it abandon plans for toppling the government. It will hold a mass funeral for the killed man on Tuesday.

“The leadership is aware and wise and it can forgive this incident. It will happen again but we won’t be dragged into this [sectarian] issue because it’s a dirty game,” protester Mohammed Atweh (30) told Reuters in central Beirut.

Many politicians and observers had said the crisis could spill over into sectarian strife in a country that had gone through two civil wars in the last century.

Lebanon’s most senior Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah called for unity in the face of attempts to drag the country into civil strife.

“One of the most dangerous things is the devilish state of sectarian instigation by some political symbols ...
which is making the political dispute open to sectarian sensitivities,” Fadlallah said on Monday.

Moussa, who met Lebanese leaders including Hezbollah officials, said before he left Beirut: “The whole Arab arena can’t stand by and watch a situation that could develop to the worst.”

Asked for details about his efforts, he said: “It is still at its beginnings but I see that it is a start that gives some hope.”—Reuters

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